Nutrition is important for health. An unhealthy diet can damage your metabolism, cause weight gain and even affect organs such as your heart and liver.
What you eat also affects the health of another organ — your skin.
As more is learned about how diet affects the body, it's becoming increasingly clear that what you eat can significantly affect the health and aging of your skin.
This article takes a look at 12 of the best foods for keeping your skin healthy.
1. Fatty Fish
Some studies have found that fish oil supplements may help fight inflammatory and autoimmune conditions affecting the skin, such as psoriasis and lupus (4).
Fatty fish are also a source of vitamin E, which is one of the most important antioxidants for the skin. Getting enough vitamin E is essential for protecting the skin against damage from free radicals and inflammation (5).
They're also a source of high-quality protein, which is necessary to make the structural proteins that maintain the strength and integrity of the skin (5).
Lastly, fish is a source of zinc, a mineral that's important for regulating inflammation, the production of new skin cells and overall skin health. Having a deficiency in zinc can lead to skin inflammation, skin lesions and delayed wound healing (6).
Bottom Line: Fatty types of fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce inflammation and keep skin moisturized. They are also a good source of high-quality protein, vitamin E and zinc.
Getting enough of these fats is important for keeping skin flexible and moisturized.
One study of over 700 women found that a high intake of total fat, specifically the types of healthy fats found in avocados, was associated with having more supple, springy skin (8).
Avocados are also a good source of vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant that helps protect the skin from oxidative damage. Vitamin E is also a nutrient most Americans don't get enough of.
Interestingly, vitamin E seems to be even more effective when it's combined with vitamin C (5).
A deficiency in vitamin C is rare these days, but common symptoms include dry, rough, scaly skin that tends to bruise easily.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that protects your skin from oxidative damage caused by the sun and environment, which can lead to signs of aging (11).
A 100-gram serving (about 1/2 an avocado) provides 10% of the RDI for vitamin E and 17% of the RDI for vitamin C (12).
Bottom Line: Avocados are high in healthy fats and contain vitamins E and C, which are important for healthy skin. They may also contain compounds that protect the skin from sun damage.
Walnuts have many characteristics that make them an excellent food for healthy skin.
They are a good source of essential fatty acids, which are fats that your body cannot make itself.
A diet too high in omega-6 fats promotes inflammation, including inflammatory conditions of the skin like psoriasis. Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, help reduce inflammation in the body, including in the skin (14).
While omega-6 fatty acids are plentiful in the Western diet, sources of omega-3 fatty acids are rare. Walnuts contain a good ratio of these fatty acids, and may, therefore, fight the inflammatory response to too much omega-6.
What's more, walnuts contain other nutrients that your skin needs to function properly and stay healthy.
One ounce (28 grams) contains 6% of the RDI for zinc, which is essential for the skin to function properly as a barrier, as well as necessary for wound healing and fighting both bacteria and inflammation (15).
Bottom Line: Walnuts are a good source of essential fats, zinc, vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium and protein, all of which are nutrients that your skin needs to stay healthy.
4. Sunflower Seeds
In general, nuts and seeds are good sources of nutrients that are important for healthy skin.
Sunflower seeds are an excellent example.
One ounce (28 grams) of sunflower seeds contains 32% of the RDI for the antioxidant selenium, 10% of the RDI for zinc and 5.4 grams of protein (16).
This amount also contains 37% of the RDI for vitamin E, which is a great way to make sure you're getting enough of this important vitamin and antioxidant (16).
Additionally, sunflower seeds are an excellent source of linoleic acid, an essential omega-6 fat that helps your skin stay thick, flexible and moisturized (16).
In a large observational study of more than 4,000 women, a high intake of linoleic acid was associated with a lower risk of dry and thin skin as a result of aging (17).
Bottom Line: Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of nutrients, including vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant for the skin. They also contain linoleic acid, a type of fat that may prevent dry and thin skin.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Beta-carotene is a nutrient found in plants.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of it.
One 1/2-cup serving (100 grams) of baked sweet potato contains enough beta-carotene to provide nearly four times the RDI of vitamin A (19).
Carotenoids like beta-carotene help keep your skin healthy by acting as a natural sunblock.
When consumed, this antioxidant is incorporated into your skin and protects your skin cells from sun exposure. This may help prevent sunburn, cell death and the resulting effects of dry, wrinkled skin.
Interestingly, beta-carotene may also add a warm, orange color to your skin, contributing to an overall healthier look (5).
Bottom Line: Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which acts as a natural sunblock and protects the skin from sun damage.
6. Red or Yellow Bell Peppers
They are also one of the best sources of vitamin C, the antioxidant that's necessary for creating the protein collagen, which keeps skin firm and strong. One cup of bell pepper provides an impressive 317% of the RDI for vitamin C (20).
A large observational study in women found that eating plenty of vitamin C was associated with a lower chance of skin appearing wrinkled and becoming dry with age (17).
Bottom Line: Bell peppers contain plenty of beta-carotene and vitamin C, both of which are important antioxidants for the skin. Vitamin C is also necessary to create collagen, the structural protein that keeps skin strong.
It also contains lutein, a carotenoid that works like beta-carotene. It protects the skin from oxidative damage, which can cause skin to become dry and wrinkled.
But broccoli florets also contain a special compound called sulforaphane, which seems to have some impressive health benefits. It may even have anti-cancer effects, including on some types of skin cancer (22, 23).
In the lab, sulforaphane reduces the number of skin cells killed by UV light by as much as 29%, and the protection lasts for up to 48 hours. There is also evidence that it helps maintain collagen levels in the skin (24).
Bottom Line: Broccoli is a good source of vitamins, minerals and carotenoids that are important for skin health. It also contains sulforaphane, which may help prevent skin cancer and protect the skin from sunburn.
Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C and contain all of the major carotenoids, including lycopene.
Because tomatoes contain all of the major carotenoids, they are an excellent food for maintaining healthy skin.
However, carotenoids need fat to be absorbed, so be sure to pair tomatoes with something like cheese or olive oil.
Bottom Line: Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C and all of the major carotenoids, especially lycopene. These carotenoids protect the skin from sun damage and may help prevent wrinkling.
Soy contains isoflavones, or plant compounds, that can either mimic or block estrogen in the body.
They may have several potential health benefits, including possible benefits for the skin.
One small study of women in their 30s and 40s found that eating soy isoflavones every day for 8–12 weeks improved fine wrinkles and skin elasticity (28).
In postmenopausal women, soy may also help improve skin dryness and increase collagen, which helps keep your skin smooth and strong (29).
These isoflavones not only protect the cells inside of your body from damage, but also protect your skin from damage from harmful UV rays. This may even help prevent the development of some skin cancers (30, 31, 32).
Bottom Line: Soy contains isoflavones. Isoflavones have been shown to improve wrinkles, collagen, skin elasticity and skin dryness, as well as protect the skin from UV damage.
10. Dark Chocolate
As if you needed one more reason to eat chocolate, the effects of cocoa on skin are pretty impressive.
One study found that after 6–12 weeks of consuming a cocoa powder high in antioxidants, participants experience thicker, more hydrated skin.
Their skin was also less rough and scaly, less sensitive to sunburn and had better blood flow, which brings more nutrients to the skin (33).
Another study found that regularly eating just 20 grams of dark chocolate high in antioxidants per day could allow skin to withstand more than twice as much UV radiation before burning, compared to eating chocolate low in antioxidants (34).
Several other studies have produced similar results, including improvements in the appearance of wrinkles. However, it is worth mentioning that at least one study did not find significant effects (35, 36, 37, 38).
Evidence shows that cocoa may be a powerful tool for keeping your skin young and protected from damage. Make sure to choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa in order to maximize the health benefits and keep added sugar to a minimum.
Bottom Line: Cocoa contains antioxidants that may protect the skin against sunburn. They may also improve wrinkles, skin thickness, hydration, blood flow and skin texture.
11. Green Tea
Green tea may also have the ability to protect your skin from damage and aging.
The powerful compounds found in green tea are called catechins, and they work to protect and improve the health of your skin in several ways.
One 12-week study in 60 women found that drinking green tea daily could reduce redness from sun exposure by up to 25%. It also improved the moisture, roughness, thickness and elasticity of their skin (42).
While green tea is a great choice for healthy skin, you may want to avoid drinking your tea with milk. There's evidence that milk could reduce the beneficial effects of its antioxidants (43).
Bottom Line: The catechins found in green tea are powerful antioxidants that can protect skin against sun damage and reduce skin redness, as well as improve the hydration, thickness and elasticity of skin.
12. Red Wine
Red wine is famous for containing resveratrol, a compound that comes from the skin of red grapes.
Resveratrol is credited with a wide range of health benefits, and reducing the effects of aging is one the most well-known.
The skin has specific binding sites for resveratrol. When applied to the skin, this compound has been shown to slow skin's aging.
Unfortunately, there's not much evidence that the amount of resveratrol you get from a glass of red wine is enough to make a difference in your skin. And since red wine is an alcoholic beverage, there are negative effects to drinking it in excess.
It's not a good idea to start drinking red wine just because of its potential health benefits. But if you drink in moderation anyway, you might want to consider red wine as your drink of choice.
Bottom Line: Resveratrol, the famous antioxidant found in red wine, may help slow the aging process of the skin by quenching harmful free radicals that damage your skin.
Take Home Message
What you eat can have a huge effect on the health of your skin.
From making sure you're getting enough essential nutrients to protecting your skin, the foods on this list are great options to keep your skin at its best.